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St. Louis Blues vs. Dallas Stars @NHLdotcom
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GAME: St. Louis Blues (25-14-6-1) at Dallas Stars (21-20-8-0).

TIME: Friday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

Nothing is going to come easy for the Dallas Stars over the next week.

Dallas will begin a very challenging stretch of games when it faces the St. Louis Blues in the opener of a home-and-home series.

The Stars, currently ninth in the Western Conference, will have to be at their best to pick up ground in the next week as they begin a stretch of five games in eight days against teams ranked in the top five of their conferences.

Dallas concludes this home-and-home series at St. Louis on Saturday, then hosts Detroit, Ottawa and first-place San Jose on Jan. 31.

The Stars have been outscored 14-7 in posting a 1-4 record this season against St. Louis, Detroit and San Jose. They have not played Ottawa.

"We knew before the season started that January was going to be tough," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We've played better than .500 hockey lately to get back to .500 for the season. Now the next step is improving and beating the teams you want to contend with in the conference and division. And that's who we're playing now, so we have that chance."

A little more than halfway through the regular season and the Stars have been shut out nine times already -- the latest coming in a 3-0 loss at Edmonton on Tuesday.

"It's happened too often this year where we haven't generated goals in games that you obviously need," Dallas goalie Marty Turco said.

The nine shutouts are two shy of the club record and the most since the 1975-76 season. The Stars are the only Western Conference team averaging less than two goals per game (1.98).

Two third-period goals by Manny Malhotra sent the Blues to a 3-1 loss at Columbus on Wednesday, ending their three-game unbeaten streak.

St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville wasn't happy with his team's effort.

"It's a tough loss for us knowing that we probably didn't deserve to win anyway," Quenneville said.

Wednesday's defeat was the Blues' sixth in their last eight road games. Their only road wins since Dec. 9 have come against Columbus and Florida -- teams that are both well below .500.

With an assist on Chris Pronger's second-period goal Wednesday, Pavol Demitra extended his point streak to six games. He has four goals and four assists in that span.

Keith Tkachuk has eight assists during a five-game point streak, but has gone 10 games without a goal.

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